Alphabet Challenge: R

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

R: Roof

My friend Carol lived with her family in a two-bedroom flat in the basement of an apartment complex in Jersey City. Her parents were the custodians. (See B for Basement) 

Carol and I began to play together before we started kindergarten. By the time we were in our early teens—after dolls and before boys—we discovered the roof of her apartment building.  

The four-story building had a flat roof surrounded by a brick wall high enough that we couldn’t plummet to the sidewalk but low enough we could stretch over and watch the cars below. Sometimes we sat on the tarpaper floor eating sandwiches for lunch or stretched out letting the sun warm our bodies. 

What I remember best was the evening sky dotted with stars as Carol and I took turns belting out the popular songs of the day. The crying catch in the voices of Teresa Brewer (Let Me Go, Lover) and Brenda Lee (I’m Sorry) challenged our vocal dexterity.

The serendipitous recording of Up on the Roof, released in 1962, never fails to take me back to Carol’s roof every time I hear it. 

Alphabet Challenge: N

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

N: Number 2 Bus

When we moved six years ago, I discovered that the No. 2 bus passed our development twice an hour ending up in downtown Raleigh. I was delighted. I wouldn’t need a car. I wouldn’t worry about a parking space or deal with slow inner city traffic or forget where I eventually did park the car. I even wrote a post (Taking the Bus, December 7, 2014) about the No 2 bus. Furthermore, I wrote in my post that I had a long history of taking mass transportation. 

As a child, my friend, Carol and I would hop a bus in Jersey City for nine cents and get off at the end of the line. Then reboard the bus to retrace our route back home. I don’t remember how long this adventurous behavior lasted or how many bus lines we explored. Over the years, I have chosen busses and trains, when possible, rather than drive long distances. 

Even though I have picked No. 2 Bus as my N topic to fulfill my theme: Places I Have Been,  I must confess that after six years, I still haven’t been on the No. 2 bus. 

Alphabet Challenge: B

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

B: Basement

My best friend, Carol, lived with her family in a basement apartment. Her parents were custodians of the four-story residential building near the corner of Summit Avenue and Mercer Street in Jersey City. I lived down the block. 

When we were in grammar school and I called on her to play, I had to walk down the three brick steps next to the apartment building. Facing a heavy door, I rang the bell. Carol would come to flip the locks and let me in. If Carol had to get ready, I usually told her I’d rather wait outside. Walking through the dark and damp basement to get to her apartment frightened me. I expected a stranger might be hiding in the shadowy corners of the basement waiting for me to walk by—and pounce! 

When I was older, I followed after Carol as she did her chores in the basement. Using the Dumbwaiters, Carol pulled at the ropes raising the box to reach each apartment. She rang a bell to alert the resident to place her garbage in the box. During this encounter, Carol and the tenant would exchange pleasantries, their voices echoing up and down the shaft. In the winter, Carol shoveled coal into the furnace. Throughout the year, she swept the basement floor regularly under the lone light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. 

In my teens, I spent more time visiting with Carol and her family (mother, father and older sister) in their cozy two-bedroom apartment. It was easy to forget that outside the front door, the basement stood in darkness. 

When Carol began dating, the slog from the front door to Carol’s apartment didn’t deter her suitors.  

After Carol and her sister married, their parents bought a single family home in southern New Jersey—for cash.

Hedda Hopper’s Lemon Pie

When I first read that men thought of sex every seven seconds, I thought that’s me. No, not that I think of sex but that I think of food frequently. 

Even when I worked full time, I planned our family dinner each evening. Meal planning and cooking seemed more of a hobby that a chore. I enjoyed hosting parties and informal get-togethers. 

Food had always been part of my life. Descended from two ethnic groups that think of food as love, there is no doubt I was hit with a double DNA whammy. My paternal Italian family spent Sunday afternoons at grandma’s Jersey City house: her kitchen table laden with homemade soup, bread and pasta, roasted chicken, salad, fruit, and followed by store bought Italian pastries. Expresso coffee for the adults coupled with good cigars for the men. 

My mother’s Polish relatives lived in the New York City suburbs. Our less frequent trips to see them were also food centric: fresh and smoked kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, sauerkraut, boiled potatoes, red cabbage with sour cream, and a selection of homemade desserts, such as cheesecake, lemon pie and baked apples with ice cream. 

My mother was a good cook. I still have her three-ring binder busting with newspaper clippings of recipes, old cookbooks: The Art of Cooking and Serving by Sarah Field Splint, 1929 and educational booklets, such as The Herb-Ox Money Saver, 1949 and Sunkist Lemons: Bring Out the Flavor, 1939. Tucked into the pages of this last book is a typed recipe for Hedda Hopper’s Lemon Pie.

Now that I’m retired and there are only two of us to cook for, food doesn’t hold the same excitement. And I’m less interested in entertaining, if one can even do this in the time of Covid-19.  However, recently I read Bill Buford’s new book, Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking. After I finished Dirt, I still had a taste for more cooking stories. I dusted off my copy of Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain that I never did get around to reading. Either Buford or Bourdain had mentioned Larousse Gastronomique, the “internationally famous bible of cooking.” That’s when I went on a pilgrimage to the bookcase on the second floor stacked with books that mostly were dusted but not read. 

On the bottom shelf stood The World Authority Larousse Gastronomique. It was the first American edition (1961) with 8,500 recipes. If I were to buy this book new on Amazon, I would spend $201.80 plus shipping. Okay, I am a Prime member—no shipping costs. 

On the third shelf, I found a basket with all my mother’s cook books and notes. 

What did this exercise teach me? First of all, the fact that I purchased Larousee Gastronomique reminds me how much cooking had meant to me. I’ll take the time to peruse this tome. Second, the trip down memory lane sorting all my mother’s cooking memorabilia challenges me to carefully sort her recipes and books. Maybe I would even try to recreate some of her dishes starting with Hedda Hopper’s Lemon pie. 

The World Authority Larousse Gastronomique, the Encyclopedia of Food, Wine & Cookery Hardcover – January 1, 1961

by Prosper Montagne (Author), Auguste Escoffier (Introduction), Phileas Gilbert (Introduction), Nina Froud (Editor), Charlotte Turgeon (Editor)

This is the internationally famous bible of cooking, the encyclopedia-cookbook which, because of its 8,500 recipes and the full information it gives on all culinary matters, has been accepted as the world authority. Ask any chef, ask any cooking expert. You will find a copy of LAROUSSE GASTRONOMIQUE in the kitchen of any superior restaurant anywhere in the world. It is a prized possession of every gourmet who knows French. But until now it has been available only the French language. Because of the complexities of variations in terms and measurements, it has never before been translated into English. Now, after three years of intensive work by a staff of twenty experts headed by two famous editors, it has been converted for American usage. LAROUSSE GASTRONOMIQUE contains in its 1,100 large pages 8,500 recipes from all over the world and 1,000 illustrations, many in full color. Also, there are descriptions of cooking processes; full details about all foods, their nature and quality, and how to cure, treat, and preserve them; the history of food and cooking; articles on table service, banquets, food values, and diet — in fact, just about every topic of culinary interest is covered. Though LAROUSSE GASTRONOMIQUE is the prime reference book of chefs, gourmets, and experts, it is equally useful and convenient for the home cook. All recipes except for banquet specialties are on a small-group basis, stated in simple terms for convenience in the home. For this American edition, all entries have been brought up to date, notable in the articles on the preservation of food. Entries are in alphabetical order and are fully cross-referenced under both English and French names. The illustrations in color, black-and-white photographs, and line drawings, many of which were made expressly for the American edition, show not only the appearance of the cooked dish but in many cases the intermediate steps of preparation as well.

 It Takes a Village or a City Block

This is my 262nd Blog post. It’s a significant number for me. I spent the first twenty years of my life in a two-bedroom apartment in a three-story brick building in Jersey City, New Jersey: 262 Summit Avenue.

Most of the buildings on the block were three stories with an apartment on each floor. I could name everyone who lived on the block. Few people moved. Multigenerational families stayed in close proximity. My grandparents’ place was a two-block walk away.

2009 visit. The gates are new.

We children couldn’t do anything wrong without a neighbor correcting us or telling our parents. In the summers we played outside until evening darkened the skies and the streetlights came on. In the colder weather, when the chill kept folks indoors, the older women sat by their windows as if afraid they would miss something.

Across the street, taking up most of the block, sat the massive New Jersey National Guard  Armory. The National Guard soldiers came for weekend training. Blaring brass bands cut above the street traffic. It was only when I reached my teens that seeing all the young men in uniform kept me close to home.

In summers, the Armory hosted the Rodeo and big-name performers: Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante. My friends and I, probably around ten or eleven years old, had managed to sneak through a side door and wander around before the Rodeo started, watching the workers set up the stands for the audience and the pens for the animals. During the show, we edged up so close to the action that we could hear the cowboys’ grunts, as they desperately tried to stay on the backs of the bucking horses or angry bulls.

Unknown

We listened to Frank Sinatra from the shadows along the walls. A spotlight followed his lanky body on the stage as he crooned into a microphone. We felt invincible.

In retrospect, it seemed easy for my friends and I to slip into the Armory. I don’t remember ever once getting kicked out. Perhaps the workers chose to look the other way.

My best friend, Carol, lived at one end of the block and I lived on the other. I’ve written about her in a post: Taking the Bus. We met when we were four or five years old, attended the same grammar school and high school. After she married, she and her husband moved to south Jersey. Two years later, I married. We moved to Newark, then near DC, making other moves until we eventually settled down in North Carolina.

After many years of exchanging Christmas cards, Carol and I now live 20 miles from one another. When we get together, we rehash our childhood memories on the 200 block of Summit Avenue. The city street that was the Village that raised us.

IT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE MUCH

Last Saturday, toward the end of a daylong workshop, Carol Henderson, our leader, gave the last prompt. Where is home?

However, knowing we only had a few minutes left, I believe we seven women wanted to share our appreciation with Carol, and with Mamie Potter who hosted the event, before we left.

That prompt fell to the floor, unnoticed.

Afterward, maybe some of the others came back to visit the prompt and, like me, to mull over its meaning. I can hear Carol say, “It means what ever you think it means.”

I’m glad I didn’t write that day about “where is home.” I’m glad I didn’t hear anyone else’s take on it. I glad I didn’t write any cerebral philosophical theory that may have moved my pen knowing I was writing for an audience.

As thoughts of home drifted into my consciousness the following week, I found myself looking for a picture I had taken of an apartment where I had lived from the age of two to twenty-two.

Back in July, 2009, I visited Summit Avenue in Jersey City with my Aunt Anna. (I have already written about her.)

When we drove by, I attempted to take a picture. There just wasn’t a moment when a passing car didn’t obstruct the house. Because of heavy traffic I needed to keep moving. As usual, parking places were scarce. I gave up after circling the block four times.

DSCN2215.JPG - Version 2

It doesn’t look like much. It’s the house on the right, 262—the middle apartment. The gate in front of the stairs was recently added. That gate would have limited the flow of social activity that took place on the concrete steps whenever the weather cooperated. Many of my memories of home when I was growing up happened on the front steps.

On the steps:

 I listened silently at age eight to the neighborhood women as they sat on the steps and talked of childbirth, raising their family and problems with their husbands.

little kids sat while I told spooky stories until the streetlights went on and we all had to go home.

the boy next door knelt on one knee and asked me to marry him when we both were in the third grade.

I walked shoeless from July to September.

my first date gave me my first kiss when I was sixteen.

I trekked on my way to my room to sleep in the mornings after working the night shift at the Jersey City Medical Center around the block.

my husband-to-be didn’t kiss me after our first date.

I know the steps aren’t a home, but they hold pleasant remembrances of growing up.That’s as close to a definition of where is home to me.

TAKING THE BUS

My husband and I will move into in our new Raleigh town house at the end of the week. Part of the reason for our move, besides being nearer to the grandchildren, is that we want more of a city life. Our last house, in a lovely forested neighborhood, was tranquil and isolated. We needed a car to go anywhere. We were happy to discover that a city bus passes by our new development.

I haven’t taken a bus in years.

I grew up in Jersey City where, as children, my best friend, Carol, and I would hop on the bus—any bus—and ride it to the end of the line and back. I think the fare was nine cents. The bus drivers had coin dispensers

Coin Dispenser
Coin Dispenser

to give us change and then we would drop the correct amount in the fare box.

Fare Box
Fare Box

At least that’s what I remember happened back then. Later, we used tokens.

Carol and I felt independent and adventurous. We never told our mothers.

In other cities where I lived, I took mass transportation, not only buses but more frequently trains:

Chicago El
Chicago El

the El in Chicago and the

Metro in the greater Washington DC area,

DC Metro
DC Metro

and on frequent visits to NYC, the subway.

NYC subway
NYC subway

What a liberating feeling not to depend on a car.

I have a brochure of the Capital Area Transit (cat) bus route. The bus starts from the northern part of Raleigh, passes our home and turns south toward the city. Seniors ride free. I plan to call my friend, Carol, who lives a suburb not far from our new home. (How’s that for serendipity?) I’m sure she will be excited to join me on an adventurous bus ride.

And we won’t tell our mothers.